Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I want a symbol for ALL of the South

I’m from Kentucky. I lived there for the first 22 1/2 years of my life. Kentucky was a slave state that stayed in the Union. Kentucky was the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Kentucky had more union divisions than confederate divisions, but I wonder some times if Kentuckians know this, as they love to talk about - and invent - Southern veterans among their ancestors. With such a mixed history, is Kentucky the South? I think it is. Having traveled extensively all over the USA, Kentucky, in my mind, fits better in the South, culturally speaking, than the midWest. I have always identified as a Southerner.

We don’t need the Confederate flag to represent the South. We never have. It represents only one group of people: white Southerners who believe Southern states had a right to enslave black Africans and their descendants. That is the heritage it represents, period. It's a hurtful symbol not only for black Americans, but for white Americans, like me, who find it a painful reminder of inhumanity that permeated the region I call my home. It represents the worst that white Southerners can be. To see it flown outside state legislatures, to see it a part of state's flags now, is disgusting.

There are so many better representatives of the South: our food, our music, our literature, our friendliness and kindness, our diversity, and on and on. People descended from African slaves are an integral part of the vibrant soul of the South, of the overall culture I love. I love it all. I love the South. And I think the South deserves its own symbol - because we are special, we are unique - but one that represents ALL people in the South and what’s best about us - all of us.

That’s a flag I’ll proudly fly.

I've also traveled all over the world, and it's disturbing to see the Confederate battle flag so popular in so many countries. I've seen it in parades, and sold in gift shops on hats. I've asked people if they know what it means. Some have no idea, and some say they think it means rebellion. But I've no doubt some of them know it's a symbol of oppression against black Americans - and that it's their legal way, in their countries, of expressing "white pride."

The battle over this flag and what it represents has to go worldwide. And we've also got to let people worldwide know the beautiful land and culture that is the South - they really have no idea.

Someone commented on a similar rant, "Are we going to eridacate[sic] the entire Civil War from our history also"? No. Just as Germany doesn't fly the flag that flew over its country and soldiers during World War II, but still remembers and acknowledges that war.

Also see: The meaning of the Confederate flag is best discerned in the words of those who bore it.

One more thing: the majority of Confederate states had armed military divisions fighting for the North. Yes, you read that right: people from each of nine Southern states banded together, under their Southern state identity, formed a military division, and fought for the Union during the Civil War. Only two non-Confederate states, California and West Virginia, had divisions fighting for the South (Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland, which also had at least one armed military division that fought for the South, each had rebellion groups that claimed to be a part of the Confederate government, and these were recognized by the Confederacy). So if you think the South has always been a unified in its hatred of Abraham Lincoln and the North, you would be wrong.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

May Snippets

In a moment of frustration, I tweeted, "Are any of my Twitter followers real? Are any of them NOT bots, and/or trying to sell me something?" And a company in England that specializes in safety & security training & advice for people working humanitarian efforts wrote back "we're real! And we now know what corn hole is thanks to you!" I'm a giver.

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Local news showed a story re: a couple celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary, and how they’ve received notes from famous people, including a hand written note from George Clooney. I wish we’d done that for my maternal grandparents when they celebrated their 70th. And then, when Mama Cym got a hand written note from George Clooney, she would have said, “Who is he? Is he related to Rosemary?”

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Saw "Mad Max", to put myself in a better mood after a motorcycle class fiasco (don't ask). Spoilers abound in the following: (1) I want a Furiosa action figure AND I WANT IT NOW (2) the old women at the end have given me a great vision for my retirement community someday (3) Even with all that said, I really don't get all the hubub about this being an "aggressively feminist movie." An aggressively feminist movie would have had a lot more than dainty women in white whining to be saved and sometimes shooting guns, old women on motorbikes, and a one-armed bad ass woman truck driver. An aggressively feminist movie would have had a woman chopping off a guy's head, drinking his blood, and screaming "I HATE PENISES!!!" Oh well, off to write my screenplay.

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We had a very nice hike to end May. I took a few photos, as well as a short video of what may be Lucinda's first time in the water. I freaked out the eager Tillamook Forest center worker. "Do you know much about the rough-skinned newt?" she asked from behind her information desk. "Well, yeah, I did my PhD thesis on them." Her entire face fell. And then I told her I was kidding. I don't think she was amused. So I asked lots of questions about the rough-skinned newt to make her feel better. She also said, "These are the most toxic creatures in Oregon!" And I said no, honey, *I* am the most toxic creature in Oregon." And her colleague laughed, and she looked horrified. I shouldn't be let out, I really shouldn't.

Lucy and the Wilson River
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We had a party on Labor Day and invited several neighbors over, including their dogs. There were five in the backyard at one point. The next day, Lucy just could understand why our backyard cannot be full of dogs all the time. I swear that she was mad that our Memorial Day party didn't mark the beginning of every day cookouts and dog visits.

And: can you find Gray Max the cat?

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"BREAKING: Swiss Police confirm that, when arrested, all seven FIFA officials threw themselves on the ground and pretended to be injured." -- Bret Bearup (yes, that one, the former U of KY player. He's hilarious)

And on a related note: shame on every country rep that voted to re-elect Sepp Blatter. SHAME ON YOU.

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Mayhew International, an organization I became familiar with when I worked in Afghanistan, has recently carried out the first ever Street Dog Survey in Kabul, Afghanistan: a fantastic team of local volunteer vets & vet students have laid the groundwork for future mass vaccination and dog population management projects in Kabul. Donations made this happen. Please follow them on Facebook, share thehir status updates, and help this excellent organization that I love so much.

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I wish everyone knew this: in Oregon, every intersection is a crosswalk unless marked otherwise (ORS 811.028). The crosswalk does NOT have to be marked with white lines or a sign (like that pictured) to be a pedestrian crossing. The law states that if you see a person waiting to cross an intersection at a corner, and that person has made some effort to demonstrate their desire to cross (such as a foot moving into the roadway, a hand extended out into the crosswalk, etc.), and you’re able to stop in time, you must stop and let that person cross.

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Oh, what a surprise - drug testing welfare recipients is a huge waste of money, doesn't prevent drug use. Awesome.

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"So a gay person wanting to pay you to do what you do for a living violates religious freedom but guys w/ guns surrounding a mosque doesn't?" - LOLGOP

Friday, June 12, 2015

Ethnic, cultural, gender identity - good luck with your definitions

What makes a person whatever it is they say they are? What makes a person male, female, black, white, Scottish, Native American, whatever? I’m having trouble coming up with absolute definitions for any of those identifiers. Is that a good thing? Should we all just be people? Or is the elimination of identifiers from our language taking something important, something precious, away from people who use those identifiers for themselves, who take value from being a part of the community that embraces that identity? After all, strongly-held racial identities and a passion to preserve such can lead to strife - and death.

I really don’t have an answer to any of those questions.

My husband is German - born and raised in Germany, German is his native language, his parents and grandparents and great-grandparents are also native born and native speakers, etc. Not at all patriotic except during the football (soccer) World Cup. Often, someone here in the USA will say to him, upon learning he’s German, “Oh, I’m German too!” When he first moved to the USA, in response to such a comment, he would say, “Wo sehen Sie kommen?” And the person would laugh and say, “Oh, no, I don’t speak German. I’ve never been to Germany! But my great-grandfather was German, so…” Often, they didn’t know where that relative was from in Germany, or even the person’s name - they were told, by family, that they had a German relative, and so they identified as German. But are they?

For much of her life, Senator Elizabeth Warren identified as, in part, Native American. She was told by her family that she had a great-great-great grandmother that was Cherokee, and perhaps other ancestors that were Delaware. She was proud of this heritage. She was even listed as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) directories. But that heritage has been called into question - there’s no documentation at all to support it. She wasn't trying to deceive anyone - she was just going with what her family believed. So… is she part Native American, having no confirmed ancestral ties to a tribe? Or not? I worked with American Indians in the San Francisco Bay area back in the 1990s - those I worked with preferred that term to “Native American” - and many times I heard them arguing about who is and isn’t “really an Indian.” Do you have to grow up on a reservation to be Indian? Do you have grown up regularly attending tribal events to be an Indian? Do you have to have a story about a time when you were treated differently - and negatively - based on the perception of your Native American appearance to be a Native American? If you can pass as “white," are you Native American? If you never identified as Indian, and then you confirmed Native American ancestry through solid documentation, do you get to list “Native American” on university and job applications, start wearing tribal dress, etc.? The debates would rage regarding all these questions - even turn ugly. I would sit at the side, have no answers, and hope we could eventually move on to the causes at hand (job development, health promotion, etc.).

I recently took the Ancestry.com DNA test to know what my genetic ethnicities are. The results: I’m
29% Scotch Irish, 22% Scandinavian, 18% Western European (Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands etc., 16% English, 14% Italian/Greek, and 1% Iberian Peninsula (Spain & Portugal). So… do I get to start wearing a kilt and talking in a Scottish accent and supporting Irish and Scottish independence? Would Greeks be offended if I declared myself Greek - having never been to Greece and not speaking Greek?

I think of all this as controversy swirls around Rachel Dolezal, an African studies professor at Eastern Washington University and an NAACP leader in Spokane, Washington. She has been identifying for many years as mixed race, as part black American, but has no proof of black African ancestry and, in fact, has two white biological parents asserting she has no black African ancestry at all. She posted a photo to Facebook, implying that a black man she was standing next to is her father - he’s not. Many people are angry. Others say she should adapt the same words that Caitlyn Jenner used in identifying as female: Caitlyn Jenner says she has always felt she was female, and is only now getting to live as her true self. The transgendered community supports her and says biology is not the determinate of gender identification - a vagina doesn’t mean, automatically, that one is a woman, a penis doesn’t mean a person is a man, etc. So, does skin color or appearance determine race? Or how one was raised? Or how one is perceived? This blog, titled Here's why every Rachel Dolezal-Caitlyn Jenner comparison is wrong, does a rather lousy job of proving its title, but it does do an excellent job of showing the range of opinions about Dolezal in relation to Jenner.

Of course, the big difference in Dolezal and Jenner is that Jenner has never lied about her family, how she was raised, her heritage, her life as a man, or her genitalia. Dolezal has lied about such things, even claiming a black father.

If I was working at an accounting firm, and I found out a woman I had been working with for a year was transgendered - had been born with male genitalia, raised a male, and only started publicly identifying as a female in the last five years - I’d be surprised, but not at all offended. And I’d go right on treating her as her.

If I was a donor to an organization that advocated for the prevention of ovarian cancer and better treatment for women with ovarian cancer, and the woman who ran the organization for two years, who talked passionately about her family’s history of ovarian cancer and how, therefore, she  fears getting it herself, turned out to be transgendered - had been born with male genitalia, raised a male etc., had lied about being born a female and having ovaries or a risk of ovarian cancer - I’d be angry. I would have felt a fraud has been perpetuated upon me.

Maybe that’s how I feel about Dolezal - she may be able to speak to what it’s like to be a black American for the last 10 years or however long she’s been living her life as such, but she’s been deceptive about how she grew up and what her family life was like. That’s troublesome.   

But this Jenner comparison has given me pause, even if it mostly doesn't fit in this case. I fully support people that want to dress as a gender different from their genitalia, who want to be treated as a gender not represented by their genitalia. I’ve had no issue walking into a bathroom and seeing a woman standing there that I am relatively certain is transgendered - if she feels she is a woman, and presents herself as a woman, and wants to use the women’s bathroom, that is fine by me. But how would I feel if the head of a pay equality group was transgendered? Could she really understand the plight of girls and women who struggle with lower pay than men in the workplace? Should she really speak for something that she may never have experienced herself? Would it matter the amount of time she had publicly identified as a woman - 5 years? 10 years? 20? My answer: I just do not know.

Elinor Burkett, a journalist, former professor of women’s studies and an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, tried to delve into this in a New York Times opinion piece; she was eviscerated for her commentary in this Jezebel piece, which made a point of finding an unflattering photo of her to show with the piece. Even attempting to discuss this can bring a LOT of grief... I wonder what I'm inviting by daring to blog about it...

Identity. What are the boundaries? What are the definitions? Can we really say anymore, with certainty, who is and isn't male, female, black, white, whatever? Does it matter? I do know ethnic, cultural and gender identify are each very personal things, sometimes even precious things, and that many people, even me, are possessive of how they identify. That's something to keep in mind if you work with… well, people.

What is the point of this blog? I don't even know anymore.

Oh, and one last note: I am not Caucasian, and I refuse to check it when it’s the option given on any form - I'll check "other" instead. Caucasian means people from the Caucasus region of southeastern Europe. The term was applied to all white Europeans by German physiologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, who believed race was determined by his cranial measurements. I consider it inaccurate at best and racist at worst and refuse to use it. And I bristle at reading the word anywhere outside of stories about people from the Caucasus region of southeastern Europe. Call me white, call me a Kentuckian, say I'm of European descent, call me a mutt - just don't ever call me Caucasian.